Bet Shrub Responds Faster This Time: Wilma Heads For FLA.

MIAMI, Oct 20 - Hurricane Wilma, which weakened to a still fierce Category 4 storm after breaking intensity records in the Caribbean Sea, prompted widespread evacuations as it neared the Gulf of Mexico early today.
Wilma became the fiercest Category 5 Atlantic hurricane ever recorded yesterday as it churned toward western Cuba and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
Densely populated southern Florida was in the storm’s projected path in the coming days.
The hurricane was expected to miss the oil and petrol facilities in the Gulf of Mexico but Florida’s orange groves and sugar cane fields were at risk.
Wilma’s top winds weakened to 250kph as of 2am EDT (1600 AEST) today, with higher gusts. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Centre said it could strengthen again.
There was a chance the core of the hurricane could hit the Yucatan tomorrow, sending a 3-metre surge of sea water over the coast, forecasters said.
The season’s record-tying 21st storm, fuelled by the warm waters of the northwest Caribbean, strengthened rapidly into a Category 5 hurricane, the top rank on the five-step scale of hurricane intensity.
A US Air Force plane measured top sustained winds of 280kph early yesterday and logged a minimum barometric pressure of 882 millibars, the lowest ever observed in the Atlantic basin.
That meant Wilma was briefly stronger than any Atlantic storm on record, including Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in August, and Rita, which hit the Texas-Louisiana coast in September.
Computer models used to predict its long-term path diverged widely, though Hurricane Centre Director Max Mayfield said it was still likely to slice across southern Florida as a formidable hurricane on Saturday and Sunday.
Florida was hit by four hurricanes last year and has been struck by Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina and Rita this year. State emergency officials warned everyone south of the Tampa-Orlando corridor to prepare to weather Wilma’s violence.
Stung by criticism over a slow federal response to Katrina, the Bush administration said it was working with Florida officials to ensure seamless coordination'' in preparation for Wilma. This is a very frightening storm that is on our doorstep,’’ said Monroe County Mayor Dixie Spehar in the low-lying Florida Keys island chain.
Authorities in the Keys, connected to mainland Florida by a single road, ordered tourists out yesterday and told the islands’ 80,000 residents to evacuate today.